During the summer months, menfolk are allowed, if not expected, to operate a barbecue grill occasionally. Charcoal or gas, the grill is da man’s exclusive domain, resistant to criticism and immune to intercession on behalf of finicky eaters.
In a form of convergent evolution, all men, whatever their ethnicity or training, eventually arrive at the same culinary endpoint. After asking companions “how do you like your burgers done?” we proceed to burn all burgers equally. A rare steak is not only rare, but probably mythical.
During winter holiday season, any guy can shine as virtuoso of the vittles. Also, a kitchen is warmer than a workshed. But timing matters.
We don’t want to haul out the cutting boards until after the womenfolk have burnt themselves out creating Thanksgiving turkeys and Christmas hams. They’ll still be horrified by our processes and products, but it’s tempting for them to think, “Know what? I’m bushed. Go right ahead, knock yourself out, the rest of us can eat Taco Bell.”
Masculine cooking is much less complex than it might appear. First, our chef assembles a random assortment of foodstuffs he discovers accumulating dust on a pantry shelf, frost in the freezer or weevils in the oatmeal box. After carefully assessing the role of each ingredient, he mixes them all together, adds many dashes of Worcestershire sauce, molds the substance into little balls or slabs, and chars them in the oven.
Dudes — when you stick something under the broiler, set a timer. Otherwise, once you’re distracted by a stubborn wine cork, you’ll recall the broiler project only when streams of smoke come seeping 'round the oven door.
Today’s focus is on Food Safety, and I don’t mean saturated fats and hormone residues. Let’s open by examining the “Five-hour Rule” governing how long chunks of food can stay on the floor before the floor is ruined. The first question to ask is, “Did anybody else see it drop?” If not, problem solved — just pick it up and put it back in the bowl with the rest of the potato salad.
At our house, the linoleum can be considered a sterile environment, at least right after the quadrennial cleaning. Carpets are a problem, which is why we usually don’t carpet the kitchen. However, eating is not confined to the kitchen, so the Rule must be invoked in bathrooms, living rooms, dens and crawlspaces.
Retrieving a carrot stick from a rug’s plush pile is quick; creamy peanut butter, not so much. I suggest a fine-tooth comb and some nail-polish remover, like we use to treat head lice.
The Rule is important because we already waste so much food. For many people of the world, the food we casually waste would be considered a delicacy. During this season of happy excesses, if you can make a place in your heart for guilt, don’t waste food just because it’s gone to ground.
The fridge offers a special challenge to food safety. Since the advent of the microwave oven, leftovers have become the fifth major food group, after starch, grease, salt and alcohol.
When we spot an item of uncertain provenance hidden under a bag of slimy lettuce in the hydrator drawer, we can employ a simple algorithm to determine whether to eat the item, or put it out for the neighbors’ cats.
Is it clearly old?
No? Not a problem, go ahead and eat it.
Yes! Does it smell funny?
No? No problem, etc.
Yes! Is it green?
No? No problem.
Yes! Is it moving?
No? No problem.
Yes! Shoot it before you eat it.
The womenfolk will regard this simplified approach to food safety as an exercise in self-deception, whereas the guys think they’re just being practical. To paraphrase a phrase we sometimes heard during the Viet Nam conflict: Just eat it all, and let a doctor sort it out.
Some forward-thinking dudes have discovered that a very long thumbnail and a couple long fingernails can serve as versatile tools, delicate instruments that can filet a crappie, pit an olive or perform a tonsillectomy. Inevitably, some unsightly residues will accumulate under the nails, and while it’s impossible to physically remove such substances, the real problem is the unsightly aspect, not safety per se.
Again, not a problem — after handling raw poultry or roach droppings, simply immerse the long nails in undiluted liquid bleach. You can leave them right on your fingers. This will render the groddoo (technical term) invisible, which is all that counts. Performance is unimpaired.
One chore guys tend to ignore is the “clean-up” after the cooking is finished. Various liquids and pastes will splatter a bit. The ejecta often runs down vertical surfaces, but the dribble-tracks can be hard to see, especially when the liquid is the same color as the wall — mauve, for example.
Even if you can’t see it, your wife will. Therefore it behooves us guys to pretend to treat all surfaces in and near the kitchen as though they were “filthy,” or “incompatible with life.”
We need only wait and watch. Flies will be drawn to those sticky trails like homely bachelors to a masqued ball. This will “bunch them up,” making it simple to eradicate an entire generation with a dose or two of .22 Mag birdshot. Flies are disgusting little disease-carriers, and it’s inefficient to chase them around with a fly swatter.
Later, clean-up is easy with a gasoline-soaked rag.
Jon Hauxwell, MD, is a retired
family physician who grew up in Stockton and lives outside Hays.